Record numbers of visitors at hiking and waterfall destinations in the Catskills and sections of the Adirondacks have prompted the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner to remind the public about respecting nature. Unprepared hikers and trash left behind are a few of the issues DEC hopes to remedy.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos says most visitors to the state’s wild places know what they’re getting into and are prepared.
“There’s a small percentage of individuals, really, across the state, really, we see that primarily in the Adirondacks and Catskills where people are not playing smart. They’re not getting outside the right way,” Seggos says. “In particular, we’ve seen people traipse into the High Peaks unprepared. High Peaks Wilderness is a very wild and dangerous place. It’s just not to be trifled with. You need to plan ahead. You need to war the right clothing. You need to pack for the worst eventuality. And you need to leave a plan with people outside your hiking group.”
Recent DEC forest ranger actions include searching for lost hikers, some who had no food or water, and rescuing those who were injured at watering holes or on trails.
“Hiking in flip flops, I’ve seen it myself this summer, is totally unacceptable,” Seggos says. “Leaving at the wrong time or challenging yourself on a trail you shouldn’t be on costs everyone. It’s dangerous to the hiker and it’s a real tax on the state’s resources when we have to perform these very difficult rescues.”
Trash left behind has been a problem this summer in the Catskills. In July, Greene County residents near Kaaterskill Clove said the spot had become overrun with visitors and lots of garbage — from lawn bags full to diapers to grills. And now, the Greene County tourism director is urging visitors to the northern Catskills to avoid Kaaterskill Falls and Fawn’s Leap Falls, both on Route 23A in Haines Falls, and go elsewhere in the region.. Both sites have seen record crowds, unsafe driving conditions nearby and illegal parking. The Town of Hunter has implemented parking regulations and will tow illegally parked vehicles to the nearby Town Hall Impound Lot. The main parking lot to Kaaterskill Falls is closed, so many visitors are parking along Route 23A, clogging the narrow road and causing unsafe driving conditions. Again, Seggos:
“We see this year, in particular, for some reason, an enormous amount of trash being left at trailheads. And it’s really a small percentage of people that do this, but it’s making life really difficult for those of us who want to see the outdoors treated with respect and treat each other with respect frankly,” says Seggos. "So we’re asking people to please abide by the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.”
In other words, take out what you take in. He says the idea of playing local is important.
“We’ve launched a recreate local campaign this summer, encouraging people to find nature in their backyards, in their local environment, in their county, not driving long distances, whether it’s from New York City all the way up to the Adirondacks or out to western New York,” Seggos says. “Please play local. It’s important for our flattening of the curve, of the coronavirus curve. It’s important for our individual relationships with one another. There’s instances where it’s hard to socially distance on trails, hard to socially distance at various locations around the state. So really, just using common sense; this is a plea for people to use common sense when they go in the outdoors. We’re seeing record usership, which is great in some ways, but also brings with it some important costs that we need to consider.”
Seggos also urges visitors to respect DEC workers and volunteers at the sites. Meantime, at the end of the July, Governor Andrew Cuomo pulled the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act from the November ballot due to the impact the coronavirus response has had on the state's finances.
“The cancellation of the Bond Act this year, I think there’s probably no one who’s taken it more personally than the governor and myself, honestly, and yet it’s an important decision that was made to protect the state’s financial picture for the years to come,” says Seggos.
He hopes the Bond Act can return to the ballot in 2021.